Tue 22 Mar 2011
“Yeah, sounds great BUT we’re not R&D… I don’t have the luxury of experimenting to see whether or not an idea will fly” That was the response a corporate colleague of mine gave when I approached him about collaborating on an idea. It also highlights the last Yeah But of the series – Not my Yob, man.
When it comes down to it, most corporate leaders today are so swamped with their day to day responsibilities that it leaves them little time to do, much less think about, activities that don’t contribute to those specific responsibilities. They practically freak out when someone approaches them about working on something new. The response is to always try to get out of it or put the least amount of effort into it. Their job is to carry out the specific deliverables they committed to delivering this year during the goals setting process. That’s it & as far as they’re concerned, that’s plenty.
The problem with that type of thinking is that it immediately rules out innovation & experimentation. New ideas don’t conveniently pop up when you have time on your hands. In fact, I’ve found that they usually manifest themselves when it’s most chaotic, when you are knee deep in a problem & trying to find a solution or a workaround. Those hectic situations get people focused on thinking creatively for an answer. The problem is that in the heat of the problem, a lot of the very creative ideas get thrown out because there is no time to put them into action. Instead of holding on to the idea for further investigation, most teams just forget about them. The spark of an idea is allowed to fizzle into obscurity.
Years ago I conducted an experiment as I began to grapple with all 5 Yeah-Buts keeping me from pursuing innovation in my team. As my team & I were in the throes of solving an issue or finding an answer to a problem, I began to pay attention & look for instances where someone said “I wish we could do xxx” or “Too bad we don’t have time for xxx” or “Does anybody know how to xxx”. Those phrases carried the spark of a possible great idea.
As I heard these phrases, I began to write them down. Pretty soon I had accumulated a nice list. Any one of the ideas on the list could potentially lead us to a new product, a new service, a more efficient way of doing things. The only thing is that we needed to fuel the spark. That’s what ultimately led to the creation of the Idea Incubator. With the help of my team, we purposely & purposefully looked at ways we could carve out time to fuel the spark of those ideas.
At first, we could only find small amounts of time & were very selective about the idea (s) we pursued. What we discovered is that we all really enjoyed that small sliver of time away from the day to day grind to focus on what was possible. That laser focus on the idea gave us incredible momentum & results. Amazingly, one of the results was to really examine our daily activities & where we spent our time. We all found time wasters in our daily activities.
But here was the best part. We quickly acted on eliminating the time wasters. Why now & not before? Because everyone got a lot of satisfaction from experimenting with the new ideas & helping them take shape. Everyone was engaged in the process & learning a lot from it. The goal quickly became to find a way to make the Idea Incubator a part of our daily schedule. With time, we accomplished that goal & it was a game changer for the team.
Not all of the ideas we pursued led somewhere but all of them made us learn, challenged our comfort zones & contributed to finding solutions for other ideas. More importantly, everyone - from Gen Yers to Boomers – was engaged & motivated to come to work. What I realized as I battled the 5 Yeah-Buts is that I, as the leader of my team, had to find a way to integrate innovation into the daily fabric of the team or else it would never get done. The reality was that it wasn’t another team’s responsibility to experiment with new ideas. It was my responsibility as well.
I can’t argue with the fact that completing our day to day activities takes priority if we are to accomplish our annual goals & priorities. But we sacrifice our future if we only focus on the tasks at hand. Building a framework that allows experimentation to stand beside the day to day is the key to staying competitive in the future. Ensuring the company stays innovative & pioneers new ideas is every leaders responsibility & should never be assigned to one department or one function. Our jobs as leaders are to ensure our companies stay competitive, relevant & financially viable not just today but into the future.
So what about you? What are you doing today to fight the 5 Yeah-Buts to innovation? What framework are you building in your team that allows experimentation to thrive alongside the day to day? Remember, it starts with a baby step & it’s up to us to take the first one…